Gammell makes an interesting point about art teaching:
“A painter’s training does not consist primarily in instruction as to the handling of his materials. Such knowledge is extremely important, of course, but it is not the main thing. The essential purpose of a painter’s training should be to equip him with the means of solving any problem suggested to him by his creative impulse.”
He argues that all painters must begin their inspiration with the visible world, and that “a sound tradition of painting is, perhaps more than anything else, an attitude toward the visible world, and its teaching seeks to make that world more understandable and more accessible to its disciples.”
He describes bad teaching as that which makes the student follow canned formulas for painting, or as he says, “ready-made interpretations of natural appearances and recipes for rendering them.”
Above: Gammell: “The Law,” 1936.
How would Gammell address those higher goals? How, exactly, does the teacher equip the young painter to respond to the creative impulse? What good would such guidance be if the student didn’t already know how to stretch a canvas, and apply paint? Especially in a world where basic practical knowledge had been mostly lost, isn’t it the duty of an art education to have mastery of the mechanics of paint and brushes, perspective, anatomy, and accurate drawing?
As I understand Gammell’s argument, he would agree that it’s the teacher’s duty to help the student through all of the mechanics, which take years of dedicated effort, ideally in a small atelier.
But it’s the rare teacher that is able to equip the student with the higher tools for bringing their dreams into focus, and for manifesting them in a way that is right for that student’s unique sensibilities.
Once the practical foundation is laid, teachers can offer students proven strategies for shaping their dreams into material form. The process of developing sketches, preliminary studies from the model, and so forth, is a time-honored procedure that has served artists with all sorts of visions and styles.
*Note: Gammell’s view of the art world scarcely includes the field of illustration. Although he mentions Howard Pyle in passing, he ignores his contemporaries such as Andrew Loomis, whose Creative Illustration was published in the same year as Twilight of Painting, and he doesn’t acknowledge the artists of the Famous Artist’s School, who were active in the mid-40s. Those artists had substantial skills at representational painting and they passed them on through innovative channels. It can be argued that the training of illustrators carried on much of the tradition that Gammell found absent in the gallery art world.
Wikipedia on Gammell
Steven Gjertson’s essay on Gammell, his teaching, and his times.
Twilight of Painting